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Volume 43, Number 2
19 December 2014
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2013, a man lights a candle in a temporary Ukrainian Greek Catholic tent church during anti-government protests in Kiev. (photo: CNS/Tatyana Zenkovich, EPA)

Ukrainian Catholic leaders have warned their church is being driven underground again, according to CNS:

“In Crimea and eastern Ukraine, we’ve already effectively returned to the catacombs,” said Father Ihor Yatsiv, the church’s Kiev-based spokesman.

“It’s a sad paradox that history is being repeated just as we commemorate our liberation. But after a couple of decades of freedom, we again look set to lose our freedom,” he told Catholic News Service on 18 December.

The priest spoke as Ukrainian Catholic communities in Russian-occupied Crimea approached a 1 January deadline for re-registering under Russian law. He said the Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church had no legal status in Russia and would therefore be unable, in practice, to register.

Father Yatsiv said Russian and separatist forces had not officially refused to register Ukrainian Catholic parishes, but had ensured it was impossible because of the lack of legal provisions. He added that there was no effective government in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, where rebel groups did not recognize Ukrainian Catholics and were “imposing whatever rules and regulations they choose.”

Earlier in December, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych told Austria’s Kathpress news agency that Crimea’s five Ukrainian Catholic parishes would find themselves “outside the law,” along with the territory’s Latin Catholic, Muslim and breakaway Orthodox communities.

“It’s ironic we’ve just been celebrating the 25th anniversary of our legalization in the former Soviet Union — but our right to legal activity will soon be withdrawn in various parts of our country,” Archbishop Shevchuk told Kathpress Dec. 12.

“There’s clearly no religious liberty already in Crimea and the occupied territories of the east, and I hope the international community will deploy its resources to restoring freedoms in the affected areas,” he said.

Ukrainian Catholics fled Crimea to escape arrests and property seizures after Russia annexed the region in March. Most church parishes have closed in Ukraine’s war-torn Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where separatists declared an independent “New Russia” after staging local referendums last spring.

Ukraine’s Catholic Caritas charity warned on 11 December of a “humanitarian catastrophe” this winter, with 490,000 people now registered as refugees, and 545,000 displaced abroad, mostly in Russia.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church makes up around a tenth of Ukraine’s 46 million inhabitants. It was outlawed under Soviet rule from 1946 to 1989, when many clergy were imprisoned and most church properties seized by the state or transferred to Russian Orthodox possession.

19 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Peshmerga fighters deployed in the Nineveh region of northern Iraq flash the victory sign at sunset while shipping ammunition in order to fight against Islamic State in Sinjar. (photo: Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Iraqi Kurds capture besieged Sinjar mountain, freeing hundreds (Al Jazeera) Kurdish peshmerga fighters have fought their way to Iraq’s Mount Sinjar and freed hundreds of people trapped there by Islamic State fighters, a Kurdish leader said on Thursday…

Chaldean bishop of Beirut appeals on behalf of displaced Iraqi Christians (Fides) More than 800 Christian families have fled Mosul and Nineveh Plain and have found refuge in Iraq. Their condition is that of the “newcomers” in a Country already destabilized by the arrival of more than a million Syrian refugees. Most of them are in Beirut and have found support only from the local Chaldean Eparchy. Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji of Beirut has issued a statement to solicit aid…

One million people wounded, diseases spreading in Syria (Daily Star Lebanon) One million people have been wounded during Syria’s civil war and diseases are spreading as regular supplies of medicine fail to reach patients, the World Health Organization’s Syria representative said. A plunge in vaccination rates from 90 percent before the war to 52 percent this year and contaminated water have added to the woes, allowing typhoid and hepatitis to advance, Elizabeth Hoff said in an interview late Thursday…

U.N. launches aid appeal for Syrians and their host communities (U.N. News Center) As Syria’s war rages on into its fifth year, the needs for food, shelter and medicine are astronomical, several United Nations agencies said today as they launched a major appeal, requesting over $8.4 billion to help nearly 18 million people in Syria and throughout the region. Presented to donors at a meeting in Berlin, the 2015 appeal incorporates, for the first time, development aspects in addition to the life-saving humanitarian needs of over 12 million displaced people inside Syria, and the millions of Syrian refugees scattered throughout the region and the countries that host them…

Muslim leaders: We defend the churches together with Christians (Fides) Threats against Christian sites have prompted authoritative and recognized Muslim academics to denounce and condemn anti-Christian threats and rhetoric. Among others, Amna Nosseir, professor of religion and philosophy and dean of the Islamic Studies department at Al Azhar University, has condemned such acts as a betrayal of authentic Islam, and called on “Christians and Muslims” to protect the churches together from any threat, so that Egyptian Christians can celebrate their liturgical solemnities in peace…

Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Refugees United Nations

18 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Syrian refugees warm themselves around a fire on 3 December in Ankara, Turkey.
(photo: CNS/Umit Bektas, Reuters)

18 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Indian Christians hold candles during a demonstration against a suspected attack on a church in Amritsar on 2 December. (photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

Christian enclave in India fears violence as Hindus press for conversions (Washington Post) A few months ago, Hindu nationalists swept into a small village where several families had converted to Christianity more than a decade earlier. They held a fire purification ceremony with the villagers, tore a cross off the local church and put up a poster of the god Shiva. The space was now a temple, they declared. Then right-wing Hindu groups announced a Christmas Day ceremony where they planned to welcome hundreds of Christians and Muslims back to Hinduism. After a nationwide furor, organizers postponed the ceremony on Tuesday. But one of them, Rajeshwar Singh Solanki, said in an interview Thursday they will demonstrate against any church baptisms performed on the holiday. He said his group’s ultimate aim is to ensure that Islam and Christianity “cease to exist” in India. Christians in Aligarh say they are afraid of what might happen on their holiest of days…

Islamic State turns monastery into a prison (Fides) In the city of Mosul, captured by jihadist militants of the Islamic State in June, Christian churches continue to be turned into prisons. Last weekend, fighters transferred at least 150 prisoners, blindfolded and handcuffed, to the ancient Monastery of St. George, which belonged to the Order of St. Anthony Sant’Ormisda of the Chaldeans. The prisoners, previously held in the prison in Badush, were evacuated in anticipation of a possible attack by the anti-Caliphate coalition…

Latin patriarch of Jerusalem issues Christmas message (Fides) Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem has taken the opportunity of the traditional Christmas message to reconsider with eyes of faith the events that recently marked the lives of the peoples in Holy Land — an account in which pain and hope, despair and consolation intertwine, in a time marked by the visit of Pope Francis, the new Gaza war and the attacks against places of worship…

Jordan struggles to house refugees as Islamic State fears grow (Vatican Radio) The United Nations has launched an appeal to raise $8.4 billion for the coming year, to help nearly 18 million people affected by the war in Syria. On Thursday, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, said that people who have been displaced within Syria “have exhausted their savings and resources.” He added that neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis and “are at breaking point…”

Jordan submits Palestine U.N. resolution draft (Al Akhbar) Palestinian leaders on Wednesday sought Arab backing for a draft U.N. resolution that would set a two-year deadline for reaching a final settlement with Israel and pave the way for a two-state solution. The draft resolution calls for a “just, lasting and comprehensive peace solution that brings an end to the Israeli occupation” of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and “fulfills the vision” of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as the shared capital. Meanwhile, in Washington, the State Department declined to say whether the United States would use its veto power…

Egypt court jails 40 Morsi supporters convicted of torching churches (Al Akhbar) An Egyptian court sentenced 40 backers of President Muhammad Morsi to up to 15 years in jail Thursday for violence including torching churches, a judicial source said. Followers of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement have been the target of a relentless crackdown by the authorities since he was deposed in July 2013 by ex-army chief and current President Abdel Fattah al Sisi…

Tags: Syria Iraq India Egypt Jordan

17 December 2014
Melodie Gabriel

Salt + Light Catholic TV in Canada produced a documentary “The Francis Effect,” featuring CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar. Visit this link to learn how you can view the video or purchase a copy. (photo: Salt + Light)

A blessed Advent to you! I am happy to share with you about CNEWA’s recent collaboration with Salt + Light Catholic Television in Canada. CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, was interviewed and featured in “The Francis Effect,” Salt + Light’s latest documentary.

As Salt + Light described it: “‘The Francis Effect’ takes a critical and in-depth look at how an ancient institution (the Catholic Church) is rapidly changing under the leadership and vision of Pope Francis...exclusive interviews with prominent Catholics and non-Catholics reveal that Francis is having a profound effect on the world as well.”

You can learn more about CNEWA’s work with Pope Francis and how the Holy Father’s leadership has an effect on the Middle East and the whole world. I invite you to view this special clip of Msgr. Kozar from the documentary:

Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA (The Francis Effect) from saltandlighttv on Vimeo.

To watch the full documentary or to purchase a copy, visit “The Francis Effect” webpage. If you would like to support Christians in the Middle East through CNEWA, please give online.

And we invite you to remember, in a special way, our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq.

Thank you for the generosity and your prayers!

17 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Couples dance the tango in celebration of Pope Francis’ 78th birthday outside St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 17 December. Several hundred people gathered after the pope’s general audience to dance the tango in an informal event organized on social media.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis got an unusual birthday gift today. CNS has the scoop:

Pope Francis always asks for prayers, especially for his birthday, but this year he also got some tango.

Thousands of tango dancers, mostly from Italy, flocked to St. Peter’s Square to wave their white scarves “A Tango for Pope Francis” and cheer along with tens of thousands of other people at the Wednesday general audience.

...An Italian tango dancer had anidea, Cristina Camorani organized a “Street Tango Flashmob” over the Internet inviting people to what she hoped would become the “Biggest Milonga in the World.” Milonga, an older form of tango with a faster rhythm, is the pope’s favorite dance style. He has said he used to dance the tango when he was young, adding, “It’s something that comes from within.”

At the end of the general audience, Pope Francis greeted the tango dancers and said it seemed like the square was “for a 2 x 4,” which is mysterious tango-lingo referring to rhythm.

You can see more pictures at the CNS link. Meantime, check out the video below. Happy birthday, Pope Francis!

17 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

An armed supporter of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk smokes a cigarette while holding a position near an airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on 16 December. (photo: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)

U.N. says death toll in eastern Ukraine up to 4,707 (Washington Post) Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed at least at least 4,707 people since the conflict began in mid-April and more than a quarter of the recorded deaths have come since a much-ignored cease-fire, U.N. rights investigators said Monday. A new report from the U.N. team in Ukraine says at least 1,357 of the fatalities have been recorded since the cease-fire began in early September, but the team noted that some of those deaths may have occurred before then…

Lebanese parish reaches out to Christian Iraqi refugees for Christmas (CNS) As an expression of solidarity and to share the hope of Christmas, the Maronite Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection in Rabieh, an affluent suburb north of Beirut, hosted the group of Christian Iraqi refugees. Some of the refugees had arrived in Lebanon only days or weeks before, their hopes for a safe future overshadowed by memories of their expulsion from their homes in Mosul and the areas of the Nineveh Plain last summer, when Islamic State militants seized the areas and ordered minorities to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, or face death…

Caritas Jordan: Child refugees need schools (Vatican Radio) “I think that people all over the world … need to be really aware of what is happening to the Iraqi and Syrian refugees and to listen to their stories,” says Dana Shahin, communications officer at Caritas headquarters in Amman, Jordan. She spoke with Vatican Radio about initiatives to aid the ever-growing number of refugees in Jordan who have fled the conflicts tearing their own countries apart. Education for the tens of thousands of refugee children, she says, is increasingly urgent and resources scarce…

When work doesn’t pay (Al Jazeera) Across Asia and the Middle East, millions of migrant workers are employed on guest worker programs in which they are sponsored by a specific employer to work on a short-term contract. Thousands are held in administrative detention each year when employers fail to obtain or renew their work permits. Given that their work visas are tied to their employers, many cannot leave a bad job for a better one and are reluctant to complain about abuse — not least because it could result in detention and jeopardize their right to stay in the country…

Tags: Ukraine Lebanon Jordan Iraqi Refugees Migrants

16 December 2014
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2002, men relax at a café in Bourj Hammoud, an Armenian enclave in Lebanon. To learn more about this community and its people, read Little Armenia in the July-August 2002 issue of the magazine. (photo: Armineh Johannes)

16 December 2014
Greg Kandra

In this image from June, Pope Francis greets Orthodox Metropolitan John of Pergamon after praying with him at the tomb of St. Peter at the conclusion of Mass marking the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. The metropolitan has expressed hope for progress toward full Christian unity. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Thousands of Christian refugees from Iraq now in Jordan (Fides) There are now more than 7,000 Iraqi Christians who have fled from Mosul and Nineveh Plain and have found refuge in Jordan and the resources available for their assistance will end within two months...

U.N.: Hardships growing in Ukraine (The New York Times) Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian armed groups is claiming an average of 13 lives a day, and after nine months of conflict, the approach of winter has created life-threatening conditions for many civilians in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations reported on Monday...

Leading Orthodox theologian hopes for “quick progress” toward full unity ( One of the leading theologians of the Orthodox world has said that he sees prospects for “quick progress” toward full Christian unity under Pope Francis. Metropolitan John of Pergamon, the co-chairman of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, told the Vatican Insider that Pope Francis has brought new excitement to ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox world. “The way in which he is carrying out his ministry removes the many apprehensions and fears of the past” ...

Egypt’s Islamist Party to include women and Copts as candidates (AllAfrica) Egypt’s Salafi al-Nour Party announced on Saturday that its electoral list for the upcoming parliamentary elections will include Copts, youth, women, and other marginalised groups, as stipulated in the elections law...

Architects design unique bus terminal for a divided Jerusalem (Christian Science Monitor) In 2003, a decade after the initial Oslo Accord was signed, architecture students Karen Lee Bar-Sinai, Yehuda Greenfield-Gilat, and Aya Shapira designed a bus terminal that would sit on the seam of divided Jerusalem under an eventual peace deal...

Tags: Egypt Ukraine Jerusalem Jordan Copts

15 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Norma Intriago, Deacon Greg Kandra, Rev. Charles Magano and Christopher Kennedy are shown during CNEWA’s visit to Curé of Ars Catholic Church in Merrick, New York, on 14 December.
(photo: CNEWA)

Last weekend, a group from CNEWA visited Curé of Ars Catholic Church in Merrick, New York, at the kind invitation of the pastor, Father Charles Mangano. We were there to help spread the word about the work we do — specifically CNEWA’s efforts right now in Iraq and Syria.

My colleagues Norma Intriago and Chris Kennedy, supported by parishioners Deb Johnson and Joe Gioello, had a wonderful chance to meet the good people of the parish — answering questions, passing out copies of ONE magazine and providing brochures and prayer cards. We also set up a display and a couple tables in the vestibule to offer even more information.

Parishioner Deb Johnson, works with CNEWA staffers Norma Intriago and Christopher Kennedy to set up our display in the church vestibule. (photo: CNEWA)

On top of that, I served and preached at all the Masses for the weekend. It was Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of “rejoicing.”

As I mentioned in my homily:

This Sunday, we turn with greater expectation and joy toward the East and the place where Christ was born.

As you look East, look as well on the people of the East, in the land we call Holy. Tradition tells us that the wise men, the Magi, who first paid homage to the Christ child, were from Persia, the land we now know as Iraq. These people were among the first to hear that salvation had come into the world.

Twenty centuries later, their descendants — despite bloody and brutal persecution and against incredible odds — still hold fast to that bright promise of the first Christmas.

I concluded by asking people to help our brothers and sisters in the Middle East to remember the message of the angels at Christmas: “Do not be afraid” — and to offer them during this holy time of year the priceless gift of hope.

Deacon Greg Kandra, CNEWA’s multimedia editor, preaches the homily during Mass at Curé of Ars Catholic Church (photo: CNEWA)

We always find these parish trips uplifting and rewarding, and are grateful for the new friendships we make and the partnerships we develop with many of the people we meet. The commitment and faith of those we encounter are truly humbling. So many people want to do something, but don’t know where to turn. One parishioner clasped my hand after Mass. “I pray a rosary every day for those people in Iraq,” he said, adding “thank you for coming here and spreading the word and giving me another way to help.”

If you’d like us to visit your parish — to speak at Masses or to prayer groups — just drop us a line at the address below. Our development director, Norma Intriago, will be happy to coordinate a visit.

Meantime, thank you to Father Charles and all the staff at Curé of Ars for making us all feel so welcome!

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